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Friday, August 31, 2012

Vintage Happy Hour with Jenny Q: The Sidecar

Today we're feting the Sidecar cocktail, in honor of one of the unsung heroes among American literary characters, Eugene Morgan, the charismatic and enterprising automobile inventor who loses the love of his life, not once, but twice, in Booth Tarkington's classic The Magnificent Ambersons.

There are conflicting reports regarding the origin of the Sidecar, and both Paris and London lay claim to it. But the most popular version of the history of the Sidecar says that it was created during World War I in a Paris bar (Harry's New York Bar, to be precise) at the behest of an American army captain who was feeling a bit under the weather and requested a fortifying drink to ward off the winter chill. Brandy was the best choice for self-medication, but no self-respecting French bartender could serve an after-dinner drink as an aperitif, so the nameless magician who served the captain mixed it with equal parts orange-flavored Cointreau liqueur and fresh lemon juice for a classic sweet-and-sour-type cocktail chock full of vitamin C.

So how did the Sidecar get its name? According to David A. Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948), the Sidecar "was named after the motorcycle sidecar in which the good captain customarily was driven to and from the little bistro where the drink was born and christened." It should also be noted that both the Paris Ritz and Buck's Club in London claim credit for the creation of the Sidecar, but it's hard to compete with an American captain in a sidecar at Harry's New York Bar.

The Sidecar is literally one of the purest and easiest cocktails to make. This classic recipe is taken from Last Crumb:


1 oz Cognac or Armagnac
1 oz Cointreau
1 oz Freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine ingredients in a shaker half full of ice. Shake or stir vigorously until very cold (no less than 20 seconds). Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange wedge or a lemon rind.

The majority of The Magnificent Ambersons takes place just before the outbreak of World War I, but it's not hard to imagine Eugene Morgan as an early adopter at his gentleman's club. An energetic and progressive character, Eugene made his own fortune embracing new "horseless carriage" technology in a rapidly changing world. His oft-quoted and quintessential line, "There aren't any old times. When times are gone they're not old, they're dead! There aren't any times but new times!"  was spoken during a moment of joviality upon renewing his acquaintance with his first sweetheart, Isabel, but those words would characterize one of the tragic themes of the novel, prophetic and apropos as his beloved's old money family finds themselves unable to adapt to the new world order, and as Isabel's misguided and reluctant son would seek to separate the star-crossed lovers once again. The final scene of The Magnificent Ambersons is one of the most bittersweet, heartwrenching, and wonderfully perfect endings I've ever read, and I think I'll read it again this evening, only this time I'll have a Sidecar at the ready to lift my spirits afterward.


The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
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